"Westport Rocks" - A Community SEL Approach
Updated: Apr 7
In this time of the Coronavirus pandemic, there is a long and daunting list of educational challenges facing parents, teachers and—most of all—children. Academic challenges notwithstanding, I believe this is an important opportunity for us to focus on the skills that support our children’s social-emotional development, including demonstrating empathy, sustaining relationships, and encouraging perspective-taking. We have all been inspired by stories of young children writing thank-you letters to essential workers, leaving snacks outside for delivery workers, writing cards for nursing home residents, or donating money if they are able. And then there are older kids and teens who have taken the initiative to make care packages, volunteer in food pantries and run errands for seniors or other vulnerable populations. Taking part in these projects, our children are no doubt learning to step outside themselves and respond to the needs of others. Recently, a friend and I discovered another way to build positivity and connections both at an individual and community level, through an initiative we call Westport Rocks.
Westport Rocks is based on The Kindness Rocks Project, a program started by Megan Murphy which now has a global following. It encourages people to paint rocks with hopeful and kind messages for others to find. The idea resonated with us for several reasons: it is inclusive of all ages and abilities, it promotes pro-social behavior, it provides an opportunity to demonstrate empathy, and it is fun, joyful, optimistic by nature, and virtually cost-free. Everyone is invited to take part, from preschoolers to senior citizens, and we document the photographs people send us on Instagram, our website and through our facebook page as a way of promoting connection and community. Painted rocks become bridges from one person to another and their messages cross social distance barriers.
As an SEL Consultant and a former teacher, I am passionate about the role of literacy in child development, and I often seek out children’s books to extend and build upon activities. Here are three books that connect specifically to this activity, and which can be used as a springboard for conversations to engage with children about topics of kindness, empathy and relationships. Please check out the resources below and know that there are many other books already on your child’s bookshelf that can connect and reinforce these themes!
Love You When by Linda Kranz
This book features beautiful photographs of painted rocks and is reminiscent of the messages of The Kissing Hand, or The I Love You Book by Todd Parr. After reading it, you and your child might be inspired to paint rocks and write your own book called “I Love You When…”, told through the lens of a parent and a child. The permanence of a rock lends itself to the permanence of love and can be a great springboard for discussion.
Rock on Kindness! Pass it On, Stepheni Curran
This book is written for school-age children and the main character is in 2nd grade. I love the concept of this book which is to think about what makes a friend unique and special and then to capture that on the rock painting before giving it to them. This is a lovely way to think about painting rocks for friends and family.
Kindness Rocks, Sonica Ellis
Clara, a young girl paints pictures and words on rocks for others to find when one day, a turtle happens upon these rocks. This is a story that reinforces how these painted rocks with an encouraging word or picture can have a profound impact on others, even if we don’t ‘see’ it.
More great picture books that promote kindness and empathy include: